Thursday, March 16, 2017

Longue durée

To commemorate Women's History Month, The New School today screened a documentary about Gerda Lerner (1920-2013), the historian who studied here - and, while still studying, taught the first course in women's history at this or any other university. (It was anthropologist May Edel, one of her teachers at The New School, who pointed Lerner toward history, a field she went on to reshape in significant ways.) A most inspiring story, and sobering. Nobody gave us anything, she insisted. Women worked hard for all their rights. Seventy-two years for suffrage in the US. Seventy-two years! What kept them going?

It's always good to be reminded how very recent it is that young women now grow up with women role models, heroes and models in history as well as the present. (Young men, too!) Not much longer than my lifetime, in fact... though, Lerner would point out, women have in fact been making history all along, even without the aid of histories, which used to focus only on (and exaggerate) the history-making of men.

During the three days of interviews in 2012 that form the center of the documentary, film maker Renata Keller got to be the one to tell Lerner that one of her heroes, Hildegard of Bingen, had just been canonized by Benedict XVI. Nine hundred years it took, Lerner said. Thirty-nine abbesses, thirty-nine generations of nuns!

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